Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47
Thomas Harris (piano)
Kensington Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 28 June, 2015
Venue: Chelsea Old Town Hall, King's Road, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London
Fortunate are the residents of Kensington, with two very good long-established orchestras bearing the Borough’s name (the other is the Symphony). Marking its scarcely-believable 50th-anniversary, the Kensington Philharmonic opened with a reprise of the first work it performed, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Under the widely experienced Mark Fitz-Gerald, the KPO delivered a noble and highly successful account of this trenchant masterpiece, not only well-balanced in this not invariably suitable acoustic but also notable for an intensity and concentration that were admirable and wholly convincing. The playing may not have been pluperfect, but any slight flaws were of no consequence.
Thomas Harris is a very gifted young pianist who gave a first-class account of the ‘Emperor’ Concerto, admirably partnered with apt tempos, finely graded dynamics and an excellent sense of phrasing in the slow movement. It was a pleasure for once to hear such a no-nonsense reading of this work, as this was, with the soloist never making exaggerated expressive points but at all times presenting the music in a manner that remained wholly faithful to the score. This was genuine Beethoven, pure but never simple.
To conclude, Fitz-Gerald and the KPO delivered Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony with considerable penetration and insight, predicated upon a strict observance of the composer’s too-often-ignored metronome markings, tempo indications, and the Symphony’s in-built and wide-ranging structural power. These qualities were allied to a sense of drama and a detailed approach to phrasing that reinforced one’s long-held belief that – properly interpreted, as it was on this occasion – Shostakovich’s Fifth can be counted among the greatest symphonies of the last century.
Mark Fitz-Gerald is one of the leading authorities on this composer’s music, as his well-researched recordings of unfamiliar Shostakovich works demonstrate. His grasp of the mighty Fifth Symphony, and his ability to inspire the KPO to give an account of such rare insight and comprehensiveness, places him amongst the finest living interpreters of this great composer.
The concert marked the retirement of the long-serving leader of the KPO – Margaret Whittall – whose solos in the Shostakovich showed once more what a fine artist she is, parting with the deepest thanks for her dedication and our very best wishes for the future.